Monday, May 28, 2012

Men in Black 3

Movie Name: Men in Black 3
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Stars: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Emma Thompson, Jemaine Clement, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alice Eve, David Rasche, Bill Hader, Mike Colter, Michael Chernus
Genre: Comedy, Action
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Barry Sonnenfeld's new feature film, six years after "RV", is the third installment of the franchise he started in 1997, which was followed by a lackluster sequel in 2002, "Men in Black". The film follows the two main characters, agents J and K, who have to battle a dangerous alien who escaped a prison situated on the moon. The dangerous alien goes back in time, forty years specifically, to prevent Agent K from arresting him. It's up to J to go back in time and prevent the future from being altered and Earth from being invaded by an alien race.
"Men in Black 3" was plagued by production problems, mostly having to deal with the script, which had to be reworked around the section of the film that takes place in 1969 (which forced the production of the film to be paused for 6 weeks). That's precisely the problem with the film - the pacing in the midsection is forced and contrived, losing a lot of the wit and charm that Josh Brolin brings to the film as the younger K. The film winks an eye at the civil rights movement, but it's barely there. The actors try as much as they can to make the screenplay work, but by the time the final act appears, everything in the action is occurring by the numbers. This franchise always had a great sense of humor to it, and it does show on occasion, but unless the quality of the writing improves, this is one series that should end at this point. A sadly missed opportunity.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Movie Name: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Year of Release: 2011
Director: John Madden
Stars: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imre, Ronald Pickup, Dev Patel, Tena Desae, Sid Makkar, Jay Villiers
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

John Madden's career reached a peak with "Shakespeare in Love", but it has been quite irregular since then. His new film "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" follows a group of British retirees, who find themselves booking a hotel suited for seniors in India. This eclectic group have a common denominator - they are all looking to find companionship or meaning in their lives. Once they reach India they find out that the hotel is far from what the brochure and website have advertised. It's up to them to enjoy and make the best of what the situation has presented itself to be.
John Madden adapts the book from Deborah Moggach, very much like the standard view of India that fills the postcards. What the film does present of unique is the fantastic group of actors who bring all these characters to life. Each of these characters that are part of the group, are in some way looking to bring some meaning into their lives, now that they reached a certain age, where they feel left out or simply forgotten. Quite simply put, they need companionship. And that is something that though different in their personalities, it unites them and bonds them. The film and the screenplay have nothing new to say, but to see these actors bring these characters to life and interact with each other is simply fantastic. For that alone, the film is compelling and worth watching.


Movie Name: Bernie
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey, Brandon Smith, Rick Dial, Richard Robichaux, Larry Jack Dotson, Brady Coleman
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Crime
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Richard Linklater's career as a director came to prominence in the early 90s with two films that since acquired a cult status: "Slacker" and "Dazed and Confused". Since then he has directed quite a few films, with different levels of success, but his point of view has always been one very distinguished and interesting. With "Bernie" he tackles the story of Bernie Tiede, a funeral director in a small town named Carthage in Texas. Bernie is introduced as a very socially active person, very well liked by everyone in the small town, and always interested in helping the people in the community. When a rich and disliked lady in town becomes a widow, Bernie starts spending more and more time with her, until she becomes utterly demanding of his time. In a spurt of a moment, Bernie kills Marjorie, and hides her body. When the reveal occurs, shock and surprise occur throughout the town's inhabitants.
Richard Linklater successfully captures the mood and the tone of a small town in Texas. His film is built very much like a documentary, that captures the impressions of real inhabitants of the small town, but also showcases how Bernie was seen and perceived by everyone else. The film is filled with great humor, and most of it rests on the fantastic performance of Jack Black, who captures the character of Bernie Tiede perfectly. He humanizes the character, without making it a cliche or a stereotype. Matthew McConaughey also surprises as Danny Buck, whereas Shirley MacLaine has little to do as Marjorie Nugent. This is a great film where all the parts are so nicely put together, from the overall tone, to the performances, including also the cinematography of Dick Pope. Worth watching.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Avengers

Movie Name: The Avengers
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Joss Whedon
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgaard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Alexis Denisof, Powers Boothe
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Joss Whedon's career has been mostly as a writer (for both TV series and film), though his first feature film "Serenity" was an expansion of his own TV series "Firefly". "The Avengers" is based on the comic books from Marvel Comics, that assembled different heroes, namely Captain America, Thor, Ant Man, The Wasp and also The Hulk. The comics were first published in the 60s from legendary creator Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and throughout the years the team kept changing. The movie picks up threads from the multiple films that Marvel has released thus far, namely the "Iron Man" films, "Thor" and "Captain America". The plot concerns Thor's disgraced brother, Loki, trying to rule the Earth through a device that opens a passageway between different dimensions. All the heroes are brought together to battle this menace, but first they have to work out their own differences.
Joss Whedon's film is quite obviously meant to be an entertaining and directly focused on appealing to the largest majority of demographics possible. It's also a film that suffers from a real lack of vision or ideas of film - the fantastic special effects animate characters that are paper thin, and though the motivation between all of the main characters seems quite clear, at a certain point with all the noise going around, it oddly becomes anti-climatic. For all the fantastic (and obviously quite expensive) effects you see on screen, there are no characters you want to embark on a journey with. This is one of the films, where though you have some good actors to work with, they are obviously lost in the midst of effects that overwhelm the entire picture. What made "Iron Man" from Jon Favreau work, was the focus on Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark - he had a humanity and a dimension, something that lacks in this film and in it's characters. "The Avengers" is a well oiled product, but it's a hollow one.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Dark Shadows

Movie Name: Dark Shadows
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller, Bella Heathcote, Chloe Grace Moretz, Gulliver McGrath, Christopher Lee, Alice Cooper
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Celebrated director Tim Burton is back, following the disappointing "Alice in Wonderland". His new film, "Dark Shadows" adapts a TV series from the late 60s that gained a cult following throughout the years. The film follows the story of the Collins family, in particular of Barnabas Collins, a young man who in the 18th century gains the attention of a witch. The witch upon seeing that Barnabas is in love with someone else, curses him, turns him into a vampire and buries him. 200 years later, Barnabas is unearthed, and sets out to help his living descendants and battle the witch that transformed him into what he is.
The always fantastic Tim Burton has found another suitable vehicle for his universe in the character of Barnabas Collins. Barnabas is a man at odds with the reality, in a time that has evolved beyond him, of behaviors of those who surround him that he does not recognize. The 1970s may as well be a completely different universe for the hero of this story. As usual in his more personal projects, Tim Burton's heroes are individuals of a certain singularity, possessed of an innocence that also has a darker, hidden tone. Barnabas is no exception - he longs to be reunited with his long lost love, but he is also a vampire (a monster as he describes himself) who kills when needed. The script of the film is filled with great characters, from the delicious Angelique, brought to life in a great performance by Eva Green, to Dr. Julia Hoffman, who Helena Bonham Carter portrays as usual with an ironic twist that is unforgettable. The film however belongs to Johnny Depp, who is simply superb as Barnabas - he makes the character simultaneously endearing, funny and frightening. The film is an overall treat, filled with great humor and attention to detail. A film worth watching.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Movie Name: The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Peter Lord, Jeff Newitt
Stars: Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, Imelda Staunton, David Tennant, Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, Lenny Henry, Brian Blessed, Anton Yelchin, Brendan Gleeson, Ashley Jensen
Genre: Animation, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Peter Lord follows his previous hit, "Chicken Run" with another animated featured that trails in the same style that the Aardman studios have been known for (their "Wallage and Gromit" features are the most prominent ones). "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" follows a group of pirates, headed by their valiant but not bright Pirate Captain, who is trying to win the award for "Pirate of the Year". Sadly his group hasn't amassed much in terms of looting, which means he'll lose yet again, until they all find out that their pet parrot, is in fact a rare species, a dodo, something the Queen of England has a keen interest on. When Polly, the dodo, is put in a difficult situation, it's up to the motley group to come to the rescue.
Peter Lord is a veteran in the animation world, and builds a story that is filled with humor and references to cultural staples, which may elude children, but which hit the target for older audiences (the references to the Academy Awards for instance). There's a sense of fun and joy in the film, something that the fantastic animation emphasizes in the character design for instance. Unlike Steven Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tintin", where there was an overstatement of the action till there was barely any recognizable character involved (Tintin himself was completely secondary to what was occurring on the screen), "Pirates" allows for each character to have their own time and create an empathy with the audience. All the actors do a great job with their characters, particularly Imelda Staunton, who steals the show voicing Queen Victoria. A fun movie worth watching.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Status Report

I'm not one to complain about the absolute mess my home country is in, but today I have finally reached a breaking point. My parents just called again, in a state of shock, since they have been robbed yet again. My parents live in a small town, called Quinta do Anjo, near Palmela, mostly agrarian, and until recently, fairly safe to live. Lately the country, and sadly to say, the people in it, have all gone downhill, morals included. Things have reached a point where my father's tractor components have been robbed (this was preceded by watering equipment, chains, breaking entering in storage units). I've always believed Portugal to be a decent country to live in, filled with a goodness that far surpassed the difficulties it always experienced. But once you stop being able to provide safety for the people who try to make an honest living, what else is there to protect?